Proton pump inhibitor lawsuits filed on behalf of individuals who developed life-threatening kidney complications allegedly related to long-term treatment with Nexium and similar heartburn drugs have been consolidated in New Jersey federal court.
An Transfer Order issued by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on August 2nd initially transfers 161 cases to the District of New Jersey, where they will undergo coordinated pretrial proceedings before a single U.S. District Court judge. The Order further notes that an additional 24 proton pump inhibitor lawsuits may be eligible for transfer to the new proceeding, as are any similar claims filed in the future.
Heartburn medications in the proton pump inhibitor class include:
Every year, millions of Americans turn to these drugs to alleviate symptoms associated with GERD and other peptic disorders related to the excess production of gastric acid. Because they have become so commonplace, few people worry about the side effects potentially associated with their use.
Over the past year or so, several studies have suggested that long-term treatment with proton pump inhibitors can increase a patient’s risk for serious kidney complications. In April 2016, for example, a paper that appeared in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology reported that long-term users of the drugs could be 96% more likely to develop kidney failure and 28% more likely to develop kidney disease compared to patients using another class of heartburn medications called H2-blockers. Another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in January 2016 also suggested that proton pump inhibitors might increase the risk of chronic kidney disease by as much as 50%.
In 2014, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the manufacturers of prescription proton pump inhibitors to note acute interstitial nephritis, a sudden inflammation of the kidney tubules, as a potential side effect. If not recognized and treated immediately, this condition can progress to chronic kidney disease and even kidney failure.
Plaintiffs pursuing proton pump inhibitor lawsuits claim that the drugs’ manufacturers have long been aware that their products could harm the kidneys, yet failed to issue appropriate warnings to the public. They further assert that they could have avoided chronic kidney disease, kidney failure, and other renal complications had proper warnings been furnished to consumers and the medical community.
In January, the JPML denied an earlier motion that had also sought centralization of these claims. At the time, the Panel cited the small number of filings (just 15), as well as the differing heartburn drugs involved in the litigation and the need to protect trade secrets among the various defendants. In agreeing to establish a multidistrict litigation for federal proton pump inhibitor lawsuits this time around, the JPML noted that the size of the litigation had grown. Two defendants, AstraZeneca and Pfizer, had also changed course, and now supported consolidation.
“Although several of the grounds on which we denied centralization in Proton-Pump I remain largely valid, we find that the significantly larger number 6 of involved actions, districts, and counsel, the concomitant increase in burden on party and judicial resources, and the opportunity for federal-state coordination, coupled with most defendants’ change in position to now support centralization, tip the balance in favor of creating an MDL,” the Panel said. “Centralization will facilitate a uniform and efficient pretrial approach to this litigation, eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent rulings on Daubert and other pretrial issues, and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary.”